Tagged: Music Novel

Hit the Road, Jack

There’s a lot of music in our lives. We listen to it when we’re writing, editing, and plotting. Our sons are both omnivorous musicians, which means we’ve spent more than our fair share of time attending drum, guitar, bass, and piano lessons, marching band parades and football games, piano recitals, jazz band, concert band, symphonic band, and orchestra concerts, and battle of the bands. One son was in a metal band that had gigs at a local bar before he was 21, the other plays highly esoteric and experimental stuff, in addition to straight-up classical and jazz.

For as much as we like music, though, there unfortunately aren’t many local shows that interest us, which means that when there’s a band we want to see, we have to hit the road.

That’s just what we did earlier this week. We like to use the time in the car to brainstorm ideas, and this time we worked on fleshing out Sibling of Music Novel. It felt fitting to talk about music on the way to the concert, and on the way home we were flush with energy and insight. The drive was about six hours each way, so we had plenty of time to dig in on some details of world building and theme. Since this one is a sequel, you’d expect a lot of the world building to be done already, but we’re adding a new wrinkle which requires us to start from scratch for one of the settings. We’re talking “are the laws of physics the same here?” level stuff. There’s a lot to talk about.

Kent did all the driving, while Jen navigated, which is how we like to run things. It also means that it was up to Jen to take notes on our conversation. She used the voice recognition dealy on her phone, to quite amusing results. Our main character has a non-standard name, and in the notes it ended up being spelled at least four different ways. When we got to our hotel we had a good laugh over all the other kre8ive word choices as we transcribed the notes and expanded them.

We’ve been pretty deep into editing Elsewhere’s Twin, while also doing some writing on Grandson of Science Novel. It had been a long time since we devoted a lot of brainpower to plotting out a new story, and it felt really good. We came up with a lot of really fun stuff. Well, we think it’s fun. Our characters definitely won’t.

But back to the important thing, our concert experience: the venue was small and stuffy, there was unexpected moshing and crowd-surfing, the opening act was pretty good, and the headliners — Royal Blood — were phenomenal. We were only about 10 feet from the stage. We both got caught up totally in the music, which is just how it should be, and which is a feeling we want to be able to capture in our Music novels. The sweat, the flailing limbs, the thump and roar, the smell of the smoke machine, all of it will hopefully make it onto the page.

The evening was topped off with the surreal discovery that the building across the street from our hotel burned down while we were at the show. That unsettling feeling might make it into the novel, too, but mostly we want to just relive the excitement of a really good rock show.

Sayonara (Not So) Sweet ’16

What a year. Politics were shit, and too many cool celebrities died.

But!

It wasn’t total misery! Looking back at our post from this time last year, it seems we more or less accomplished what we set out to do in the writing cave. Son (and Grandson!) of Science Novel are both outlined, and we’re well underway with the composition. Go Team Skelley!

Where we deviated from our plan was basically everything that had to do with Son of Music Novel. It did not get time to rest quietly in a drawer, it did not get a thorough edit. Since the other members of our writers’ group were not at a point where they had anything to share, Son of Music Novel got its critique debut a bit early. It’s been a challenge to divide our attention between the projects, but we’re managing. At least we have each other’s shoulders to cry on.

So how did we spend our year 2016 at SkelleyCo Amalgamated Fictions, LLC?

In January and February we were deep in the outlining for Son of Science Novel. It’s pretty much the only thing we blogged about.

March brought our brilliant scheme to outline both sequels before moving on to prose. We did accomplish that, and as far as we can tell at this altitude, we haven’t fucked it up yet. If we can ever get out of this holiday quagmire and chain ourselves to our desks again, we ought to be able to finish up Son and roll right on into Grandson.

Along with taxes, April brought an end to the outlining, and a trip down memory lane. We cleaned out the Writing Cave and took a look at how we used to do things back in the Olden Days. Then we partook of a different kind of nostalgia, beginning an editing pass on Music Novel, which hadn’t seen the light of day in a while.

May was spent elbow-deep in the guts of Music Novel, editing like fiends. Or skilled surgeons, if you’d rather.

In June we hit a couple of bumps in the road, but our partnership (and marriage!) are as strong as ever.

Come July we were all over the place, working in all three of our story worlds at once, and beginning the preliminary work for self-publishing our very first novel, Miss Brandymoon’s Device.

Happy Anniversary! In August, our chain story reached installment 100! And we were still getting through all the throat-clearing that happens before we actually start writing a novel (or two).

September was mostly spent in the run-up to publishing Miss Brandymoon’s Device. Kent created a beautiful cover for it and both of its siblings. We did all kinds of boring behind-the-scenes technical stuff with fonts and layouts and what-have-you. Jen took care of the final pre-writing tasks for the new novels.

And then Boom! October! Book birthday! We think our new baby is gorgeous, and we hope you love it just as much as we do. Hop on over to your favorite book retailer and pick up a copy of the ebook for free! Or order a physical copy from Amazon. You won’t regret it!

Suddenly it was November. How could it possibly be Thanksgiving already? Please explain to us the passage of time. As we always do, we ignored NaNoWriMo and kept our own schedule, with got us to 20,000 by the middle of the month. Not too shabby, when you consider how many distractions we were dealing with.

Good thing there are no distractions in December, amiright? Despite a very long list of things vying for our attention we’re going to finish up 2016 with about 45,000 words in the can for Son of Science Novel. It’s not as many as we’d hoped we might have by now, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

Jen was feeling a little disheartened that we weren’t further along, and as we worked on this Year in Review post she was able to diagnose her main issue. It feels like we’ve been working on this book for an entire freakin’ year! And that’s because we have been. But we took a huge break in the middle to edit several novels and actually get one of them out in front of people. Somehow that part had slipped Jen’s mind. But when you look at things rationally and see that we’ve only been actually writing this book since sometime in October, it feels like an accomplishment to be proud of.

So we’ll say it again, Go Team Skelley!

Next week we’ll talk about our plans for 2017.

Where It All Came From

r-avatarBackstory is a fraught topic for writers. Without getting into the debate about how much, if any, belongs in your finished product, we can say definitively that it serves a crucial purpose in our writing process.

The outline for Son of Science Novel is complete. This sequel introduces many new cast members, whose lives have been complicated since well before they intersected with our story. There’s a lot to know about them, so we are formally outlining the backstory, giving it the same kind of development attention as the “proper” narrative. Not only is it beneficial in getting to know these new people, but it also serves a debugging function, keeping us from basing story events on flawed reasoning. It’s alarmingly easy to overlook gaps and contradictions when you view things from 30,000 feet. A lower-altitude pass is essential.

Another place where backstory has been tremendously important is in the music novel. The protagonist’s outlook on life, and the experiences that shaped it, can’t be sketched in. A sketch would rely on the reader’s preconceptions to fill it in, and that would make it misleading. None of our readers has said, “I don’t need to know this.” Which raises the philosophical question of whether it really constitutes backstory. But to us, there’s no question at all. It’s pertinent, interesting, and unexpected, which places it within the scope of the narrative regardless of its chronology.

Working with a partner gives you a great resource for gut-checking things like how much backstory is needed. And, someone to listen when you do your thinking out loud, to catch the inconsistencies before they undermine your plot structure.

Places, Everyone!

r-avatarOur first three novels are set in the same made-up town, which is strongly inspired by a real place. The music novel and (son-of) are set in New York City, which despite what you may have heard is an actual, real place. For the science novel and its successors we have once again invented cities, and the locations that inhabit them.

The science novel’s locale is practically part of the cast. We never considered setting the story in a known city. When it came time to plan its sequels, though, we worked very hard at tracking down a real place that could work. Neither of us can quite say why. Given the logistical constraints of the plot, as well as some crucial geographic and climate considerations, it was proving all but impossible to choose an existing location. Plus, we wanted it to have a cool name.

The desire to name the place was probably the signal that snapped us out of it. So, today we concocted a deliciously Russian appellation for the place where we’ll be making more characters’ lives miserable, and decided where to put its map pin. In this case, “we” means Jen of course, because names are her superpower. Now that we’ve chosen this route, it’s dawned on us how strange it would have been to have books in a series follow different theories of setting and world-building.

As an added bonus, creating a location from scratch allows Kent to stretch his D&D muscles to draw up maps.

Reading Aloud is Always Allowed

r-avatarWe just drank our champagne in celebration of completing the revisions on Music Novel, a process that culminated in a few nights of marathon read-aloud sessions so we could make sure our careful cuts hadn’t gone amiss anywhere.

Now, we’re doing our preliminaries for revision of Son of Music Novel, which consists of (say it with me) reading it aloud. We like to read things out loud, and we think you should do it, too.

There is a little more to it than just getting prepped for editing. We have beta readers awaiting this book with varying degrees of impatience, but it’s a first draft. We know it has some issues, and we don’t want to make it our beta readers’ job to report them to us, at least not the big ones.

We could just each read the manuscript and then compare notes. But hearing it (and in Kent’s case speaking it) is a great way to pick up on the rhythms and textures, and we find it’s a good info-dump detector, too. Working with a partner gives you a built-in listener, but even if you’re going solo it’s a valuable tool.

We also have at least one prospective beta “reader” who’s requested it as an audiobook, so perhaps one of these times we’ll make a recording.

Careful With That Axe Eugene

r-avatarEdits on the Music Novel were completed last night, to great fanfare and celebration. The kind of fanfare that sounds a lot like a satisfied sigh, and the kind of celebration that greatly resembles going to sleep. We finished up late, is what we’re saying.

Throughout the editing process, Jen went first, with Kent following along behind to neaten things up. If it were yard work, Jen would be on the riding mower and Kent would have the tiny little nail scissors to trim the stragglers. Except when we got to Chapter 17. When we got to Chapter 17, Kent was feeling feisty. He set his nail scissors carefully aside and got out the weedwacker and the flame thrower. Instead of one word here, one word there, he started yanking out clauses, sentences, and in a couple of cases, entire paragraphs. Several darlings gave their lives to the cause.

The carnage was a shock to Jen’s delicate system. She thought she understood how things worked (i.e., she was the vicious one), and to have the tables turned was painful. We took our time and worked through Kent’s reasoning (and he asked several times if a break would be a good idea), and made the necessary edits. And Jen can (almost) admit that he was right and the work is (probably) stronger now.

It’s important to have strong communication skills when you’re writing with a partner so that when you come across your own Chapter 17 you’re able to work through it as a team. And so that you want to keep working together. Respect and compromise are invaluable.

In the end we surpassed our arbitrary goal, removing 12.5% of the words we had so carefully written. Our next step will be to read through the finished manuscript and make sure we weren’t overzealous. That’s the other danger of swinging the sharp editing tools around — you might remove something that was better left in place.

52 Card Pickup

r-avatarEdits on the Music Novel continue apace. Jen is still bushwhacking, and she’s a handful of chapters ahead of Kent who is smack dab in the middle of the novel, doing more precision pruning. We’ve already passed the arbitrary word removal goal we set for ourselves, and it looks like we’ll have no problem shrinking the book by 10% by the time we’re done.

There are several approaches you can take when you’re editing, but you’ll get the most bang for your buck by finding big things to remove, like redundant scenes, superfluous characters, or even distracting subplots. Kill your darlings, as they say.*

The Music Novel has no superfluous characters or distracting subplots (because we’re awesome!), so we were left with routing out redundant scenes. And even those were hard to come by. There was only one scene that we removed entirely.

Since we like to present ourselves with challenges to keep our environment interesting, we took a good hard look at a series of scenes that occurred back-to-back and involved the same three characters. “These scenes are each individually spectacular!” we cried. “Nary a one is expendable! But surely there is a way to streamline the sequence!”

And lo, we were correct. By chopping those chapters into little pieces and throwing them all up in the air we were able to reassemble the components into a more pleasing shape. The pacing is better, tension escalates in a really effective way, and we saved ourselves 1200 words. Huzzah!

*no actual darlings were harmed during the production of this novel

Close But No Cigar

r-avatarWe talked last time about our workflow for this revision pass, and the benefits of all the extra conversation. This time we’re going to come clean about a downside to this approach.

Stuff doesn’t always match up the way we want it to.

At least half the time our wordcounts or character counts don’t agree after we finish getting “synced up,” which leads to a rather laborious process of tracking down the discrepancy, which isn’t the most effective use of our time. And time is a very important commodity for us, so things that waste it are a major concern.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that this way we’re catching little errors that much sooner. If Kent handed over a file with “He went the store” in it, importing that would infect Jen’s copy of the manuscript with the mistake. Sure, it would get spotted on  a future read-through, but we sleep better knowing we’re on top of that stuff.

Having two people working on a project makes certain things more complex, and sometimes that makes them less efficient. We look at it as a cost of doing business, and we think the negatives are tiny compared to the positives.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in working with a co-author? If you’ve never done it, what’s the thing you’re most worried about?

The Best Part of Collaboration

Our mission to slenderize the Music Novel is going great. We’re about a third of the way through the manuscript and well over halfway to our goal for cuts. We haven’t set a revised target number of words to remove, just agreed that we won’t stop editing upon reaching the original objective.

It’s going well, but it isn’t going fast. It sometimes takes several looks at a page before the extra words start flashing in red. It’s not always just “yoink!” — sometimes sentences need to be restructured or synonyms need to be found.

The biggest time-sink, though, is syncing up all our changes. It never feels like it should take all that long, because few of the edits are controversial in any way. But it can take as long to convey the edits between us as it took to do them in the first place.

We could certainly speed that up. Using the export features in Scrivener allows us to swap edited nodes in seconds.

But that big source of delay is also the best thing about writing together as a team — talking to each other about the text. Walking each other through the process we used to streamline a paragraph or the rationale for cutting one altogether. Even though few of those conversations involve any disagreement, it’s good to be able to talk shop with a fellow writer.

So, we won’t be utilizing all available technologies to bolster our productivity metrics. We’d give up too much in the process.

Sweeping Up the Verbal Dust Bunnies

r-avatarRevisions of the Music Novel have reached the next stage, which is the always painful make-the-damn-thing-shorter stage. Jen embarked on that task while Kent finished up a few straggling critique comments, and now we’re both on the hunt for excess verbiage.

We won’t belabor the challenges of killing our darlings, or debate optimum word counts. The book will be better when it’s shorter, period. A concise telling produces a more concentrated experience.

So, much as we’d love to make excuses and not make cuts, this is where we are.

Jen’s head start on the winnowing meant we had a choice about where Kent would jump in. There being two of us, this is potentially a chance to get something done in half the time by divvying it up. However, so far we’re not doing it that way. Kent started at the top, hitting stuff Jen had already been through.

Initially we assumed this would be a sort of gut-check only, but Kent was able to find an appreciable number of extra words still in the first chapter so we’re going to keep moving in this manner until we run into a reason not to. Although unexpected, the outcome does make sense. The first editor takes care of the bulky stuff, exposing the next layer for her partner. Like moving the sofa out of the way to sweep behind it.

Efficient teamwork isn’t always about maximizing bandwidth. Sometimes an approach that looks redundant at a glance can turn out to produce much stronger results and save you time in the long run.